Business Insight - Zoe Whishaw - Commercial Photography Consultant and Mentor

Zoe Whishaw How did you become a mentor?
Until around 6 years ago I was working for Getty Images as their European Director of Photography. I’d been at the company for 17 years since the early days of Tony Stone Images, working my way up from being a hands-on Editor then Art Director through to creative management where I was responsible for managing and motivating creative teams across Europe and Australia. My role was to coach and motivate the editors and art directors to inspire world-class, award-winning photographers to create exceptional imagery for the global creative marketplace.

Throughout this time I learnt an enormous amount about how the commercial world uses imagery and gained a thorough understanding of the dynamics and pressures felt by photographers in what was becoming a hugely competitive industry. Add to this my hands-on experience of conceptualizing imagery and managing the logistics and practicalities of shoots, the next step of working on a one-to-one with photographers to help hone, develop and market themselves seemed a very natural extension for me.

What is mentoring?
Mentoring is objective, supportive, bespoke advice provided by an industry professional. It takes the form of one-to-one sessions where the individual can voice their concerns and conundrums in private gaining pertinent advice and guidance from someone who has hands-on experience in their industry.

A single session of 2/3 hours can be sufficient in helping a photographer gain enough insights to renew their creative direction and verve, while others might require several sessions to enable them to gain renewed confidence in their work and practice.

My job is to help provide positive momentum by tapping into the inherent drive of a photographer so they can move through tough and often challenging phases in their career while remaining relevant in today’s competitive landscape.

What are the main areas are you able to help photographers with?
The first and most important is an objective, professional eye on their pictures and practice.

Many photographers feel they work in isolation and other than perhaps a period of time when they were studying at university, where discussions around projects and images were the norm, they often find it a rare event to actually talk about their aims and challenges other than with close friends and family. Unfortunately these perspectives are rarely professional and impartial.

I work across all genre of photography: commercial, editorial, fine art, documentary, etc. Typical areas a photographer might come to me are:

• Assessment of a photographer’s professional practice with regard to their website, portfolio, marketing, branding and creative direction
• Website review and development
• Creative direction: refining a vision, exploring and inspiring a new direction
• Brainstorming and developing personal projects to support a creative direction
• Editing/sequencing bodies of work
• Evaluation, editing and content development for stock agencies; identifying opportunities, maximising revenues and return on investment

There are, of course, numerous other situations are where a mentor can provide invaluable support and guidance.

How does it work?
A photographer will typically get in touch at a time in their career when they need some creative support, a reappraisal of their direction or perhaps an objective opinion on their body of work. Working in such a rapidly changing and competitive industry, many will also seek advice on how to effectively brand and market themselves.

The first stage is to have an initial no-commitment consultation over the phone lasting abound 15-20 minute so I can get an understanding of why the photographer is seeking advice and support and I can assess and explain how I may be able to help.

The initial session takes place in-person in London and will last a minimum of 2 hours. Many photographers choose to extend this during the session to capitalize on the focused ideas, momentum and action plan being discussed.

It is then up to the photographer to decide whether they would benefit from a follow-up session, be it within a matter of weeks or months. There is no prescriptive timetable for follow-up sessions; I would always prefer to be lead by the photographer’s requirements. There are options for consultations to take place over the phone should it be more convenient after the initial session.

Do photographers have to prepare before a session?
After a date has been agreed, I will set some ‘homework’ which seek insights into their practice. This helps me to gain a more thorough understanding of their thinking as a photographer and to tailor our time together accordingly. Most photographers find this process very revealing in itself and helps to focus the purpose behind their need for a session.

Can you characterise your typical mentee?
Most photographers seeking a one-on one discussion are open-minded individuals who understand the benefit of objective advice and feedback in helping them to move forward. I rarely come across someone who comes to me resolutely defending his or her position and not looking to adapt or rethink their position.

Those I work with come with wide-ranging needs and experience and while some want ideas on how to establish a presence, others may already be doing very well but are looking for motivation and ideas on how to find a new creative direction.

What are your hopes for the future for your mentees?
My primary objective is for a photographer to leave a session with a spring in their step; a renewed confidence, excitement and drive coupled with a clearer awareness of the opportunities that may exists to take their work and business forward that they may have previously been unaware of.

Zoe can be found here:

Website: Twitter: @zoewhishaw Instagram: @zoewhishaw

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